Antigua might claim 365 beaches, but thanks to plenty of cultural and historical activities, they’re not the only reasons to visit.
The island of Antigua (also known as Waladli or Wadadli by the native population) is an island in the Caribbean renown for its sunny tropical beaches. But there are so many other cool things to see and do in the island nation besides just chilling in the surf and sun. Here’s a list of the best things to see and do while vacationing in Antigua.
Redcliffe Quay, found in the capital of St. John’s, is well known to cruise ship passengers. (Try to avoid it on cruise ship days if possible.) But the compact shopping district is a worthy venture for resort guests, where colorful 19th-century buildings beckon with cafes, bars, and boutiques. Pop into Sarah Fuller Pottery Shop for handcrafted pieces, Donut Ace for homemade, filled doughnuts, and Noreen Phillips for dressy, local clothing designs.
Museum of Antigua and Barbuda
Veer away from the tourist throngs in St. John’s to find the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda. Though small, it provides a fascinating glimpse into early island life, with a collection spanning Arawak pottery and early tools. There are also simple displays covering geology and colonialism, and historic maps and photos on the second level. History buffs will also appreciate that the museum resides in St. John’s purportedly oldest building, a former 18th-century courthouse.
St. John’s Cathedral
St. John’s Cathedral can trace its origins to a rudimentary structure built in 1684. That was replaced by a sturdier stone building in 1725—until an earthquake took care of that. The third iteration, erected in 1847, appears more promising. The Neo-Baroque church has since survived an earthquake and numerous hurricanes, and is currently undergoing an extensive restoration to ensure its future survival. Visitors are still allowed to wander (at their own risk), around the carved wood interior featuring stained glass windows. Construction is ongoing without a set end date.
Miracle’s South Coast Restaurant and Bar
Follow the locals to Miracle’s South Coast Restaurant and Bar, a casual, unassuming spot in Jolly Harbour. Local jerk lobster is a specialty, as is goat curry and macaroni pie. Speaking of pie, save room for Key Lime pie and rum-spiked coffee. Service can be slow, but it’s a good reminder to relax into island time.
Sugar plantations were once a thriving industry in the Caribbean, and Betty’s Hope teaches visitors about the industry’s dark history. Antigua Governor Christopher Keynell founded Betty’s Hope in 1651 as one of the first sugar plantations on the island, and by 1780 there were almost 400 slaves working on the plantation. After slavery was abolished on the island in 1834, the mill continued to operate until 1944, after which it eventually fell into ruin. Restoration of the site began in 1990, and visitors can now check out two sugar mill towers (one of which is rebuilt), a small museum, and other plantation ruins.
Nelson’s Dockyard National Park
It’s easy to while away an entire day in Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, a former British Royal Navy base and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Travelers can poke into cafes, galleries, and stores housed in historic buildings. The Dockyard Museum, located in the former Admiral’s House, provides a helpful rundown of the working dockyard’s past as a British Royal Navy base. Or watch the current working dockyard, which also provides prime yacht watching.
Copper and Lumber Store Historic Inn
Bypass the beachfront all-inclusives in order to experience the Copper and Lumber Store Historic Inn, a meticulously restored 18th-century building in Nelson’s Dockyard that once housed—you guessed it—copper and lumber. The boutique inn offers 14 attractive rooms that are reflective of the era (well, except for some modern conveniences). Stay for the weekend in order to partake in the weekly seafood fest, a popular event held outside every Friday.
Shirley Heights, a former military lookout point in Nelson’s Dockyard, now makes for an excellent viewing spot of the English Harbour, thanks to its perch at almost 500 feet. The adventurous can actually hike to the top, while the less adventurous can simply drive. Either way, factor in sunrise and sunset for maximum vantage point views. In addition to the scenery, there are also military complex remains that once encompassed officers’ quarters, a guardhouse, and hospital. Don’t leave before refueling at Shirley Heights Lookout, especially the Sunday night barbecue party.
The theme of ruins continues here, with a crumbling fort, guardhouse, and lone cannon the few reminders of when Fort Berkeley served as a key 18th-century defense point of the English Harbour—complete with 29 cannons. (Spoiler alert: Antigua was never attacked.) Besides the historic ruins, the short hike from Nelson’s Dockyard is worth it for the views alone.
Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tour
Yes, Antigua does possess an actual rainforest, and what better way to experience it then from above? Most ages can partake in the Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tour, choosing from six to 13 zip lines, with the longest stretching 328 feet. Both options involve a treehouse rest stop and suspension bridges, while the longer course offers an optional ropes challenge at the end. Those that finish earn a certificate of bravery, providing extra incentive to conquer that fear of heights.
Sugar Ridge Spa
Head up into the hills to decompress at the Aveda Concept Spa at Sugar Ridge, a four-star hotel, and choose from a full-service menu. Less traditional treatments, like a chakra balancing massage, are on offer, as are more traditional massages, facials, and body treatments. Since Aveda is known for its hair salons, this is also the place for cuts, color, or just a good deep-conditioning treatment.
Cedar Valley Golf Course
As one of Antigua’s only 18-hole golf courses, the good news is that Cedar Valley Golf Course isn’t members only—providing players pay green and cart fees. Less experienced players are also welcome, and a driving range and golf lessons are available too. While parts of the course could be better maintained, at least there are enviable Caribbean ocean views to help compensate.